Tuesday, March 24, 2009

If I'm not lost, why do I have to find myself?

I'm not sure I should listen to daytime radio, even to our local Christian station. Something will inevitably come on that makes me wander around the house muttering to myself, much to the amusement of my children. This particular case involved a woman's interest show and the person being interviewed had written a book about how when she became a mother she lost who she was and had become "just a mother". I'm used to hearing things like this and usually let them roll past me, but the interviewer had to go on to say she was sure there were two types of woman listening. The first group were the women who didn't know they had lost themselves and the second group were the women who understood completely what the author was talking about.

Now, I know, and J. is constantly reminding me, that I am no one's target audience. But the fact that the interviewer didn't allow for a third option really grated on me. Frankly, I don't feel lost and I don't feel I am just a mother. (Personally, I can think of no more degrading a phrase to describe my existence than "just a mother". The phrase implies stupidity, laziness, and unproductiveness. The word 'just' does tricky things when used as a modifier.) My self-worth comes from the fact I am a child of God and that I serve Him. It does not come from a paycheck, or from having many degrees, or even from having a huge audience for this blog. (Perhaps I'm still working on that last one, judging by how many times I check to see if there are any new comments.) As I go about my day, I try to keep in the forefront of my mind that I am serving God. For instance, how would I feel about fixing dinner tonight if I knew Jesus was going to be sitting at my table? Doing mundane tasks take on a whole new aspect if I am doing it for my King.

As mothers and wives and homemakers, we deal with the essentials of life...food, shelter, clothing, and love. We are home during the day so we are free to volunteer in ways those working full-time cannot. We are doing the most important things. But society often gets it backwards. The important things, we are told, are things that bring in a big paycheck or provide prestige. While there are important jobs and careers out there, I am unwilling to say that they are more important than what I do.

And I do more than just clean and wipe noses. I have many gifts and talents that I make use of during my days and weeks. Women who fall into the "just a mother" trap don't seem to realize that they can exercise their gifts and talents as a compliment to being a mother. Just look at the woman described in Proverbs 31, it makes me tired just to read about all she accomplished. But I think one reason some women find it difficult to suddenly being at home is that no one has ever trained or taught them to be at home. These women go from full-time jobs, where much of their time is prescribed for them, many with a boss to whom they must answer, and a set job description... to being in a place where none of this exists. As a homemaker, I am responsible for organizing my days, deciding what must be done, what my budget is, and determining if I am doing a good job. If I want contact with other people, I must arrange it; there is no ready-made group of people to socialize with. I must be OK with being alone at least some of the time. (As well as never really being alone, given the many small people....) It is a totally different lifestyle and we act as if women automatically know how to make it work.

I truly believe the only way to learn to be content and fulfilled at home is to have mentors who can model what it looks like. I have been blessed with both a mother and mother-in-law who are/were home full-time. But for women who feel they are forging new ground, where are the mentors? They are difficult to find these days. My experience has been that the majority of women go back to work after the children go to college. Very few women choose to stay home, and frankly, society views women who stay home when there are no children involved as complete pariahs. As a result, there is a dearth of models for those who choose to stay home.

In the end, the women on the radio have only lost themselves (and really, I'm still not sure what that exactly means) because they have bought into society's insistance that we must have a title or defined role to know who we are. If this is the case, the career of "mother" just doesn't cut it because it is so little valued by society. The job of "mother" is seen as one-dimensional, simplistic (because really, how difficult is diaper changing), and mentally stultifying. Instead I see the career of "mother" as one of great influence with the opportunity to impact mulitple generations for years to come. It can be as challenging and creative and enriching as I choose to make it. From a human perspective, the role of “mother” may be viewed as economically, politically, and socially negligible, but in God’s economy, perhaps it has a value that exceeds all of those roles that society values and compensates so highly and publically.

But really, the point is that your “self” is not something to be lost or found in ANY role, whether the role is CEO, radio host, author, mother, or any combination of the characters that exist in society’s cast list. The roles we choose or accept certainly can affect the self, either by strengthening and enriching or by diminishing and distorting our souls. But the self is (I think) to be understood as that which God sees when he looks at us. Surely He sees not “mother” or “consultant” or “teacher.” He sees the unique person whom He created; He sees our hearts and actions and choices and desires, and He sees them without the cloudy lenses of socially defined roles that we get trapped behind.

10 comments:

Jena said...

hmmmm... identity in Christ....
that is the only truly satisfying identity indeed...
anything else is "just" a label...
great post!

Cuppa Jo said...

We just talked about this very thing during the sermon talk-back group this weekend!

I stressed that we need to return to remembering and relishing WHOSE WE ARE and WHO WE ARE in Christ, rather than relying upon WHAT WE DO as the primary source of our personal identity.

Preach it.

Oh, and Jena, we've never met, but "My Name is Asher Lev" is one of my fav's . . . I own a signed copy, which I hunted down after Chaim Potok passed away.

Annette said...

Thanks for such a great post. As you know, I am transitioning from an "8 to 5" outside job to a stay at home mom (currently stay at home wife until our little Dannette comes home). Thanks for being a mentor and encourager for me!

Annette

Anonymous said...

Everyone has their own opinion on this issue. Everyone is different but....

I work 9-5 which in reality is 8-6 if you count driving and mandatory overtime etc.

I see my amazing child aprox 1/2 hour in the AM (hurry up we are going to be late - get dressed, brush your hair, get in the car) and 2 hours in the evening before she goes to sleep (hurry up, eat your dinner, get your home work done, get in the tub, get in bed)

Unless you have a very unusual job what it seems most people do all day is; file, move paper around, make calls about the paper they are moving around, have a meeting about the paper, etc.

I am a single mom so I have to work. When I could stay at home with my child it was much harder then work, but enormously satisfying on so many levels. I found being a good stay at home mom took so much more in the brain department then any other job I have ever done. I am very lucky my wonderful sahm sister is there to watch my little girl so I can go out and push paper around to earn enough money to keep us afloat.

Don't ever feel you are just a mom

Anonymous said...

Great post, Elizabeth! -Stef

PhoWises said...

Sounds like that woman's comment roused you out of your pregnancy induced somnolence! Go get 'em Mamma Tiger!

comemorning said...

i loved this post, elizabeth. blessings. --emily b.

robandchristel said...

Elizabeth,
Absolutely BRILLIANT post!!!!! It should be published.
Thank you for this!!

-Rob (not "just" a Dad)

Meagan Francis said...

Nice post. I find the whole "just a mother" thing head-scratching because, like you, I refuse to define myself based on any one role I fill in my life. To me, "mother" doesn't define WHO I AM, it is simply a word to describe my relationship to my children. Just like "daughter", "wife", "sister", and "writer"...no one word defines me.

I do understand feeling unfulfilled and have been there myself, but it had almost nothing to do with the fact that I had children, and much to do with the fact that I wasn't doing what I needed to do to be an interesting, engaged person. Any job has the potential to be either stimulating or stifling...it's all in what you make of it.

Anonymous said...

Your post was heartfelt and touching...but I implore you to keep in mind that there are mothers out there who feel they are "just mothers" because they don't realize their full potential as a person that had interests, feelings, ideas, etc. before they had children. These women shouldn't be made to feel that they are somewhat less of a person because they don't yet see themselves as the wonderful women that most of them are. Put religion and personal feelings aside and just grasp onto the fact that the mothers from all walks of life, all religions, need each other's support and guidance to become the "themselves" - a person they feel comfortable looking into the mirror at and being with each day.

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